National Customer Service Week Bulletin: The Panning for Gold Principle

National Customer Service Week is October 7-11, 2013. It is a week we spotlight the power and prosperity found in delivering an innovative customer experience. Over the last 9 days we’ve introduced 9 key principles you can use to elevate the delight in your customers’ experience. Today, we conclude the series by Panning for Gold among the sand.

NPIS_goldAn employee of Harris Teeter grocery stores was on the receiving end of both barrels from an intensely irate customer.  She was berating him over the spoiled chicken she claimed she bought at his store. “Why would you sell spoiled meat?” she screamed, in a voice that could be heard a block away.  She would not let the employee get in a word edgewise.

The employee patiently let her finish venting and then sincerely apologized, letting her know his company cared about her concerns.  He then gently pointed out her chicken was purchased from a competitor, but that he would be happy to replace it with one of his own. “She was mortified and felt bad about giving me such a hard time,” he told me. “I insisted she let me replace the chicken, but she refused. She then left the store.”

But about an hour later, the employee noticed her shopping in his produce department, and when she saw him she ran up and gave another heartfelt apology. She went on to explain the reason she was there: “If you can back up a product from another chain as well as you did, then I can only imagine how you would back up one of your own products.”

Panning for gold starts with a double handful of sand in a steel pan half filled with water.  The pan is moved back and forth so small amounts of yellow sand can wash over the side. Once only black sand is left in the pan, you are rewarded with flecks of gold that reside among its grains.

Turning customer disdain into delight is like panning for gold. And like sand, service can come in a black form—those dark, disappointing moments that cause customers to doubt your caring. How you handle “the dark sand” can be the difference between losing a customer “over the side” and turning a customer “oops” into the opportunity for gold (aka loyalty).

What can you do to apply the PANNING FOR GOLD Principle? Great service recovery takes humility and compassion that lets an angry customer know you are there to fix, not fight.  It requires focusing on the gold in the customers—not their anger on the surface.  Anger is an expression of fear.  Much like comforting a child after a bad dream, managing a customer’s perceived betrayal means taking time to understand, empathize and mine the customer’s expectations so a good solution is found. “Gold finding” recovery means helping customers feel even more faithful after a hiccup.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of Customer Service Week Bulletins and that they’ve inspired you to find ways to empower your associates and reward your customers with Innovative Service, not just next week, but always. Be sure to come back every day next week because I’ll be introducing you to real people–my customer service heroes–who provide innovative service every day!

If you’re thirsty for more, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service. You’ll not only get a more in-depth look at each of the 9 principles, you’ll also find out what the 1/2 principle is!

To help you in your quest to provide innovative service, I’ve developed some free gifts for you.

How innovative is your service? Take the InnoServ Inventory and invite your customers to do it, too!


Print and display this poster as a reminder to your associates that Innovative Service comes in many forms and it is within their power to provide each customer with a remarkable service experience!


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Dr. Chip R. Bell is a world-renowned authority on customer loyalty and innovative service. Global Gurus ranked him in 2018 the #2 keynote speaker in the world on customer service; #1 in North America. He also is the author of numerous national and international best-selling books including Take Their Breath Away, Managing Knock Your Socks off Service, Magnetic Service, The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service and Customers as Partners. His books have been translated into over a dozen languages.

His newest customer service book is the award-winning, best-selling book Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.

Dr. Bell has appeared live on CNBC, Bloomberg TV, CNN, Fox Business, ABC, CBS, NPR Marketplace and his work has been featured in Fortune, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Forbes, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, and Fast Company.


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